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Rome Fun Facts: The Catacombs

One of the most popular tourist destinations in Rome is the catacombs, a vast network of tunnels under The Eternal City best known as the burial place of hundreds of thousands of Roman citizens.

Rome’s catacombs are possibly the oldest in the world, dating back to the second century.  

The history of the catacombs as a place of refuge and secret worship for Christians during the period of persecution before Christianity was legalized in 313 is also fairly common knowledge, but there are lots of interesting things to discover about this ancient underground cemetery.

Read on for our favourite fun facts about Rome’s catacombs.

Fun Facts About The Catacombs in Rome

  • There are more than 60 excavated catacombs in Rome.  Yes, 60!  But only 5 are open to visitors.
  • The catacombs are deep underground — like 20 meters deep!  That’s 65 feet, the distance of about 11 refrigerators stacked on top of each other.
  • The tunnels originated as mining shafts dating back to pre-Roman times, when the Etruscans dug them to quarry building materials.
  • Some of the catacomb tunnels go on for up to 20 kilometers, about 12 miles!
  • The catacombs are full of art.  In fact, the frescoes, paintings, sculptures, and engravings comprise one of the most valuable collections of ancient Christian art in the world.
  • In their day the catacombs were called “coemeterium,” which means “sleeping chamber” or “dormitory.”  When you look at the burial niches layered one above the other they indeed resemble multi-level bunk beds.
  • Jews were burying their departed in Rome’s catacombs before the Christians.
  • Romans customarily cremated the dead, but this all changed with the advent of Christianity.  By the 4th Century burial had become the usual practice.
  • After the catacombs fell out of use as a burial place they lay hidden for more than 1,000 years.
  • All souls were regarded as equal in the catacombs.  Pagans, Jews, and Christians were all buried together, and there was no distinction of social class, either.

Ta-da!  Should you ever visit Rome’s catacombs you can impress your family and friends with a variety of fun facts.

DriverInRome would be pleased to chauffeur you around Rome with a private car and driver, or arrange a licensed guide just for your group.  Please contact us regarding popular or custom itineraries.

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